You’ve likely heard of the “flight, fight, or freeze” response to threat. Polyvagal theory describes how these responses are controlled by the dorsal vagal nerve. This is part of our evolutionary survival mechanism. When we can, we will run from or fight a threat, but when that is not possible, and we are powerless to escape the threat, we will shut down - both to reduce the chance of harm, and also to reduce our pain or suffering (dissociating from the experience) if we are attacked.
What polyvagal theory adds to the flight/fight/freeze paradigm is the understanding of the role of the ventral vagal nerve. This controls the social engagement system - the ventral vagal nerve responds to a sense of safety and controls our facial muscles, allowing us to smile and communicate connection to other humans.
An important message there is that connection with others is only possible when we feel safe ~ makes sense, right?
Shutdown can be a natural response to a threat that is beyond our control, such as in the case of a global pandemic! There’s a lot here that we are powerless to change. What can help us kick ourselves out of physiologic shutdown is to move our bodies gently - preferably in nature, exhale with a deep sigh, and reach out to people who can help co-regulate us back into a sense of safety.
Take care of yourselves, friends.